Music Leader Musings
Posted by More Music on 29 July 2020
Marketing Intern Rhian caught up with More Music’s Music Leaders, reflecting on making music and leading participatory music sessions in lockdown, after a term of holding regular sessions online. Navigating their way through these challenging times for community music, here’s what they had to say…
Whilst this period of uncertainty is unsettling for the majority of us, for some of the community it is terrifying. More Music aims to not only spread the joy that music can bring but also to build confidence and spirit in individuals and communities through the arts; it exists for times such as these when confidence and spirit are even more difficult to inspire. So, despite the difficulties, the Music Leaders believed it was imperative to continue to run the essential groups. I spoke to some of our pioneering and determined Music Leaders to see what they have been up to over the past few months.
Anni Tracy has been leading Clapping Song over Zoom twice a week as well as a choir session for the staff at Lancaster University. Leading groups over Zoom makes interaction difficult but this is something that it is fundamental to overcome; as Anni rightly points out, ‘breathing and singing together raises endorphin levels which makes us feel good.’ Each session brings its own set of difficulties as well as rewards. For Clapping Song, keeping the children engaged is especially tricky, and very poor connection can make this near impossible but Anni has persevered. One idea she had was to create more of a theme to the sessions and bring things that can be associated with the theme: an added bonus is that is has given her impetus to write some more songs.
Whilst technological issues are a bane to most of our lives, there was an unforeseen positive from Anni’s sessions: the children are more comfortable in their home environment allowing them to feel more at ease showing off their new found skills. An added bonus is some older siblings are able to join in too, bringing the family closer together. The impact that these sessions can have, especially when guided by such a dedicated and talented leader, is truly inspiring and heartwarming.
A so-called ‘lifeline’ for the staff at Lancaster Uni, the ‘Legends In Their Lunchtime’ has been trying to run as normal. Although many are on furlough, the ones that are there are very glad of of its ability to provide ‘some connection and value’. The lively sessions are a way to bring a little bit of normality into people’s lives and though the sound quality may not always be great, what is important is that people feel happy and revitalised.
Likewise, Ben McCabe has been helping with Clapping Song as well as numerous other groups; namely, Baybeat Streetband, Honk! Streetband and Chillies Youth Club as well as finding time to work on his own musical skills through improv sessions, again over Zoom. Though he notes that he is getting tired of the monotony of things on Zoom and looks forward to returning to a degree of normality, nevertheless he has been determined to continue to make the sessions worthwhile. The street bands have worked by creating backing tracks: they are ‘a great new resource for people to practice alone with at home in between rehearsals and that we can make available to people who can’t make the zoom sessions.’ An added hope is that with the recordings and videos they have been making, they will be able to secure more bookings in the future. Meanwhile, Chillies has been ‘all about the quiz’ as well as beginning to write songs together.
For Ben, this period has given an opportunity for re-evaluation and re-imagination. The new demand for resources such as backing tracks, videos and sketch recordings has given fresh perspectives on what More Music can do to offer the best for groups and individuals; ‘I’m definitely going to be prioritising sharing repertoire in this way whereas in the past I’ve let it sit undone as a nice idea for an ideal world.’ However, as we attempt to bridge this gap from complete lockdown to freedom, he hopes for a mix between the intimacy that the physical sessions offer and the unique, digital practise tools that the lockdown has brought about.
Meanwhile, Rachel Parsons has been delivering the youth sessions via Zoom. Whilst Unique Kids’ project called ‘Unique Beatz’ has been the most successfully delivered, she has also been running Bay Youth Voices, Young Leaders and Stages. Rachel notes the challenges are more to do with an inability to reach all participants due to a variety of factors, although those who can participate do with vigour. The focus for many of these groups is songwriting, lyric writing and music production: ‘the young people have a great ownership of the session and Zoom enables them to continue to build their skills and confidence in leading sections of the workshop.’ For example, the ‘Stages Live in Lockdown’ gig was incredibly successful and raised nearly £150 for Youth Music’s give a gig online campaign. The youth sessions have certainly flourished despite the difficulties allowing participants to connect with one another and continue their musical journey.
Leroy Lupton has also been focusing on running songwriting and music production lessons along with a singing group for ages 7-12; not forgetting the musical games and quizzes. Using BandLab has been a real saviour but reliance on good technology can be a bit exclusive; although there has been some very productive sessions, it’s not a long term solution.
Ashley Murphy has said that ‘those who have had focussed sessions have got a lot out of it and learnt a lot of specific skills particularly in music production.Equally, it gave a chance to start new projects such as the LYVE Alumni group: it has given a chance for them to see each other and sing together after several years.’
More Music has continued throughout the lockdown, adapting and persevering. There are positives that have come from this experience such as use of new technology and tools as well as a new found respect for the things we previously have taken advantage of. As we move into the next stage of lockdown and we can slowly begin to see each other at a respectful distance, hopefully we can find a way to play music safely not just on Zoom. However, until that is possible the Music Leaders will continue their superb work to ensure that these groups can continue to run: their ingenuity, determination and enthusiasm all deserve to be greatly commended and an inspiration to all of us as we continue to navigate these challenging times.